The AccessABILITY Student Union and ASUO senators are working together to move the University of Oregon to the forefront of higher education institutions that are universally accessible for students with disabilities.
At the Jan. 6 ASUO Senate meeting, the senate approved a resolution to create a working group to collaborate with members of the AASU. Since that meeting, the two groups have been planning to introduce a ballot measure next term that would make the ASUO and UO more accessible through universal design — the idea of producing buildings and environments that are accessible to people with and without disabilities.
The creation of this new measure arose when the AASU was unable to submit its documents to ASUO to receive its yearly budget. Nocona Pewewardy, vice president of AASU, said completing the process can be difficult for students who are busy or have disabilities that limit their mobility.
Although the ASUO accommodates students with disabilities through its processes, ASUO Chief of Staff Casey Edwards said that there are no specific policies in place for accessibility purposes.
“We have done a lot of work regarding accessibility. We change policies and procedures to allow students more access and accommodations. [However], we want something more set in stone and long-lasting,” Edwards said.
In addition to problems with the budget process, the AASU was unable to receive an office space in the EMU from 2008-2014 because it lacked accessible spaces for the group. In March 2014, AASU was approved for space in the Multicultural Center, which is currently accessible to all students. The group will be able to move into the office after remodeling of the EMU is complete.
But although the EMU may comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act — the law that requires public buildings to be accessible for people with disabilities — Pewewardy said it is much more difficult for institutions to fit “the spirit of the law” because some portions of the EMU, such as the Mills Center, are not actually accessible.
Senator Quinn Haaga says that the senate initially planned to pass a resolution to help accommodate students with disabilities. However, resolutions are only temporary and any subsequent senate body is not required to adhere to past resolutions.
In order to create more permanent change, Edwards said passing a ballot measure that changes the Green Tape Notebook, the bylaws by which ASUO operates, would bind future student bodies to commit to making the UO more accessible for students.
With the AASU and ASUO working together, Haaga is optimistic that they will be able to make lasting change through this measure.
“[Nocona and I] both want to see change in the university and she has the framework to make that happen,” Haaga said.
Although the groups have not yet finalized the measure, Pewewardy said the measure will be a huge step forward for the UO.
“If students pass a ballot measure in support of universal design, we will create an example for UO administration and academic departments [to] provide a foundation for our successors to build from to make UO’s pride a more authentic experience for students,” Pewewardy said.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the AASU was still searching for a permanent office and that the Multicultural Center is not accessible to all students. Neither of these statements are true. The AASU was approved for an office in the Multicultural Center in March 2014, and that will open after remodeling at the EMU. The Multicultural Center is currently accessible to all students during the EMU remodel.